WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats Wednesday blocked a GOP effort to crack down on the hundreds of so-called “sanctuary cities” in the U.S that don’t cooperate with federal efforts to deport undocumented immigrants by cutting federal grant money to those areas.
The Center for Immigration Studies, which seeks to limit illegal immigration, publishes a list of sanctuary cities across the country. Sanctuary cities are generally defined as those with policies that say local law enforcement need not cooperate with federal immigration officers from agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement when they request that local offices keep flagged undocumented immigrants in holding until ICE officers come to detain and, eventually, deport them.
The Senate bill, was presented by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who is facing a tough re-election race. Philadelphia is considered a sanctuary city.
Critics of Toomey’s bill said he was trying to ride on the coattails of Donald Trump’s anti-immigration campaign platform. On the Senate floor Wednesday morning, Minority Whip Dick
Durbin, D-Ill., described the bill as “political posturing before the Republican convention.”
Sanctuary cities have faced tougher scrutiny on Capitol Hill ever since the shooting death of 32-year-old Kate Steinle last July. Steinle was shot by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco, a well-known sanctuary city. The San Francisco Sheriff’s department had released the shooter, Francisco Sanchez, after prosecutors decided not to press charges against Sanchez for a drug-related crime. The sheriff had denied a request by ICE to hold Sanchez for eventual deportation. He had previously been deported but re-entered the country.
Shortly after her death, Rep. Matt Salmon, R – Ariz., introduced a bill to increase penalties for undocumented immigrants re-entering the country after removal. Toomey added the provisions of Salmon’s measure into his proposal to penalize sanctuary cities.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R – Texas, was a co-sponsor of both the sanctuary cities bill and Salmon’s Kate’s Law bill. During remarks supporting the bill Wednesday morning, Cruz admonished the Obama administration, saying it “tolerates and encourages lawlessness” with its “lax administration” of immigration policies.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that no plans have been discussed to call for another vote.
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